How to capture portraits of your child

As some of you know, for 2015 I committed to taking a portrait a week of my own kids. Even after 10 years of shooting professionally, this seemingly simple exercise is already changing my photography.

Big brother has been sick for what seems like months (I’m sure many of you can relate.) We’ve got a bug we just can’t kick.  So, there have been lots of snuggles, lazy mornings and even the return of the afternoon nap.  The other morning as I was reading to Liam in his bed, I noticed there was beautiful light coming in his window and I knew I wanted to take advantage of it for the portrait of the week.

Portraits are obviously a different beast than “action” shots and can be nearly impossible depending on the personality and age of your child.  Liam is usually pretty agreeable as long as I keep my sessions quick, but sometimes it makes things easier if I offer him a trade for his cooperation.  I respectfully ask him for “help” taking pictures and in return I offer him help on his cardboard rocket ship (or other project he has in the works). Occasionally, I just offer chocolate chips, straight up! Although there isn’t any posing involved in my portraits, I will ask him to “freeze” when he falls into a pose I like.   For portraits,  I personally prefer eye contact. I just adore the eyes of children.  Now that Liam is 5, I’m able to simply ask him to look at me and he does. This didn’t happen when he was 3 and I did a lot more talking to encourage him to look at me.  In this shot, his expression is honest. It’s what he looks like when he’s waiting and when he’s relaxed.  He knows that I don’t expect a smile and so he doesn’t try to fake one.

Follow these 5 steps to capturing a successful portrait of your child:

1) Know what you want: Give yourself some time to study the light in your home and make some choices about technical settings before engaging your child. Then once you begin shooting, your attention can be on capturing the expression and choosing an interesting composition.

2) Earn your subject’s cooperation: Give your child some incentive to be still for you.  Tell them a simple story while you shoot ( I use the 3 little bears because I can tell it without thinking), make them a trade, or give them something to do that keeps them occupied but doesn’t interfere with your shot.

3) Get eye contact: Ask for them to look at you or surprise them with a fart sound or silly word if you want a laugh! There is also a great trick of asking them what they can see in your lens.

4) Let it be natural: Wait for your child to relax and watch for a gesture or expression that feels authentic. Sometimes asking them to “freeze” works well. Other times, you just need to be quick on the shutter.

5) Don’t push it: Keep your session to 5-10 minutes. If you try to shoot for too long or ask for too much, your kids will likely be less cooperative the next time you pull out the camera.

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